What Does Jimmy Hendrix Have to Do with Listening Skills?

by Thomas Metelski, CPA, PCC, Jump Coaching Connection, Inc. – April 11, 2024
What Does Jimmy Hendrix Have to Do with Listening Skills?

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening,” said Sidney Deane (played by Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump, 1992).

Pop culture never captured it so well. Anyone who knows that movie knows the scene and that conversation! It touched on a universal theme — connection. If it doesn’t ring a bell, cue up some Jimmy Hendrix and kickstart your exploration into the realm of listening skills.

Pop culture aside, the importance of listening skills is nothing new in the business world. Psychotherapist Carl R. Rogers conducted research on this topic in 1952, notably featured in a classic Harvard Business Review paper titled, “Barriers and Gateways to Communication.” Yet, it appears we haven’t made strides in this vital skill since then; it remains an under-utilized skill. One reason could be that only 11% of business schools have listening skills as a learning goal. However, the residual impact of the pandemic is bringing a renewed focus on the lost art of this critical skill. Our shorter attention spans and mental wellness impacts may also contribute to the deterioration of some of our most important emotional intelligence skills, such as listening skills. The upside? Listening isn’t just an innate talent; it’s a skill. With the right knowledge and practice, anyone can hone it.

Here are three key concepts you can apply to improve your listening skills immediately:

  • Awareness: No change ever happens without some type of awareness; upskilling is no different. When you engage with someone, ask yourself: What is my intention for this interaction? Am I here to get my point across? Am I just thinking of what to say next? Or am I just thinking about what’s for dinner tonight? In other words, are you more concerned about your own internal thoughts than you are about the other person? Are you “in your head” or are you concerned about theirs? You can’t be truly engaged if you’re stuck in your own mental narrative.
  • Conscious focus: Once you have an awareness, you can choose to be fully present or float by. If you want to be fully present, it requires you to redirect all of your energy to the other person. Once you practice conscious focus, you won’t be able to ignore it, and that may throw you off initially. But don’t worry, like any new skill, it takes time to sharpen. Once you recognize and catch that internal monologue, you now know what to do.
  • Curiosity: Once you decide to turn your attention on the other person, try to understand their intentions, feelings and concerns. It’s here that you can practice the skill of empathy. This is where the connection starts! There is no doubt the other person will feel your attention. We’ve all been in conversations where we know the other person is NOT listening. You can really feel it. Authentic curiosity is palpable, just as the absence of it is glaringly obvious.

Here are a few ways you can demonstrate awareness, conscious focus and curiosity:

  • Give all your attention. Put away the cell phone, laptop or other devices that will distract you from the other person.
  • Be present. Eye contact, open posture, mirroring gestures, etc.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Voice inflection, facial expressions and body language give a lot of information to others.
  • Repeat what was said back to the person. This is a great way to show you are engaged.
  • Ask clarifying questions to gain deeper understanding. An example is “What specifically did you mean by…?”

Enhanced listening skills offer a cornucopia of benefits. It can lower social anxiety, make employees more relaxed, increase awareness of strengths and weaknesses, enhance collaboration, increase your ability to influence and reduce turnover.

Ultimately, listening is a gateway to connection, which we all crave! A final question: What would the impact of improved listening skills have on your life, productivity and work environment? Don’t just take my word for it — dive into your own research.

I’m curious what you will find and will be here ready to…LISTEN! 

Thomas W. Metelski

Thomas W. Metelski

Thomas Metelski, CPA, PCC, is CEO of Jump Coaching Connection, Inc. and host of The Value of Values podcast.

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This article appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.